Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Those books you read in fifth grade? They're a bigger deal than you thought they were.

Right now, I'm about 450 pages into _A People's History of the United States_ by Howard Zinn. It's been on my to-read list since my junior year of high school. And after Zinn passed away this past January, I decided that I needed to get with the program and read it already. And so, here I am.

It's making me want to throw things (which means its doing its job). Thing is, it started to make me feel so sad/angry/anxious that today, I decided to take a break and read a couple of YA books.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have a huge soft spot for YA literature. My favorite YA author (perhaps my favorite author of all time, actually) is Han Nolan, whose writing I admire because not only is she unafraid to tackle political topics, but she does so very subtly. And although she writes for a younger audience, she does not underestimate her readers. Her books have really made me a better person.

Another favorite YA author of mine is Ann Rinaldi. I started reading her books when I was in the fifth or sixth grade. She writes historical fiction, and occasionally borders on nonfiction: One of her novels, _Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbon_, tells the story of Phillis Wheatley.

Reading one of her books today, I began to think about what I read now, and how it isn't all that different from what I read when I was younger, and how all of that has ultimately played a huge, huge, HUGE role in the decisions I've made in regard to my education.

English was always my favorite subject in school. And I rocked it. At the eighth grade "graduation" ceremony, I was presented with an award from the English department (I still have the plaque in my bedroom). In high school, I took honors/AP English classes, and worked as the editor-in-chief of my school's art/literary magazine. And then I got to college, majored in creative writing, and worked as the editor-in-chief of the art/literary magazine there, too.

And then I started to question whether it was really what I wanted to pursue. It was a really difficult question to ask myself, because my love of English/writing was the one thing I had always been sure of.

I couldn't deny my other interests, though. As much as I loved most of my English classes, the best class I've ever taken at SVSU was a 100-level history class I took to fulfill a gen ed requirement. I hadn't expected to get much out of it. It was just a history of the United States, post Civil War to the present. I took it because I thought it'd be a blow off.

But it blew my mind. It made me question capitalism, which was a real ground-shaker for me, having grown up in Grosse Pointe. I got a B in the class, and I had to work my ass off for that B. I was glad to work my ass off for that B. I had so much fun.

That same semester, I took a literature course called Great Lakes Writers (also to fill a gen ed requirement, actually). I figured, "Okay. We'll read some books written by people from Michigan." And that's exactly what happened. But what I really loved about it was the that it was the first time I was conscious of putting what I read into a larger, more political context. We read _them_ by Joyce Carol Oates, which led to a discussion about social class. We read some Hemingway, and I got to rip him to shreds for being a misogynist. And to top it all off: We watched two Michael Moore documentaries. Sha-zam.

That was the best semester ever. Afterward, I went back to taking writing courses. It went well for the most part, but I couldn't shake my desire to delve into politics/history. I continued on as a creative writing major, figuring that since English had always been my favorite subject, that was the right thing to do.

It wasn't. By the beginning of my third year at SVSU, I was unhappy, mostly because I was doing well in my field, and therefore felt like it was too late to tell anyone that I didn't think it was the right field for me anymore. I lacked the ambition I'd had before, and couldn't afford that, because by that point, I was in charge of the art/literary journal.

So I kept on, and it made me crazy. My heart just wasn't in it, and it really began to show.

A lot of electives for the creative writing major are literature courses. So I wound up enrolled in quite a few of those. One class in particular was awesome: When one of my friends looked through my notes, she actually thought they were for a history class. It had the potential to surpass History 100C as the best class I'd ever taken, but by that point, I was in the midst of a full-blown freak out, and therefore, was too distracted to get much out of it.

I still love English. I love it so much that I couldn't bring myself to major in anything else once I decided to transfer to Wayne State (even though a huge reason for my transferring to a school bigger than SVSU was the chance to take more specialized classes in other fields).

But what I failed to realize--until earlier today, as I was reading YA books--is that literature is what gave me my interest in politics/history in the first place.

I didn't know what feminism was--let alone identify as a feminist--when I first picked up an Ann Rinaldi book ten or eleven years ago. But I know I loved her strong female protagonists.

And I wasn't aware of what was going around me politically--much less have an opinion about any of it--when I started reading Han Nolan's books. I just agreed with her humanism. It affected me, and stayed with me. It had a tremendous impact on my outlook.

I find this little epiphany of mine hugely comforting. It was really hard for me to accept that I might not be as in love with English as I had once been.

I still am. It's just a bigger field now, and I'm a bigger person.

Hear me roar. :-)

No comments:

Post a Comment